By Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday accused New York state officials of trying to “take down” the National Rifle Association as the powerful gun rights group faces internal divisions and allegations of financial improprieties.
New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, has issued subpoenas as part of an investigation related to the NRA, but she declined to elaborate. The New York Times reported the probe relates to the group’s tax-exempt status.
“The NRA is under siege by (New York Governor Andrew) Cuomo and the New York State A.G., who are illegally using the State’s legal apparatus to take down and destroy this very important organization, & others. It must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting, & get back to GREATNESS – FAST!” Trump said in a Twitter post.
Representatives from the governor and attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The gun group was roiled over the weekend when internal disputes spilled into the open at its annual meeting in Indianapolis, when retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North said he will step down as NRA president. North said he was being forced out because of his allegations that NRA leaders engaged in financial improprieties.
His departure came after NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre accused North of trying to oust him by threatening to release “damaging” information about him, according to a letter from LaPierre to NRA board members that was published by the Wall Street Journal on Friday.
North had told the NRA board last week he had formed a committee to investigate allegations, including one that LaPierre had received about $275,000 in wardrobe items paid for by an NRA vendor from 2004 to 2017, the newspaper reported.
The NRA board went into executive session during a meeting on Monday as it debated next steps, according to media reports.
The NRA, with more than 5 million members, is the most powerful and well-connected gun lobby in the United States. It has worked closely with legislators to protect firearms manufacturers from liability for gun violence and pushed a ban on U.S. health officials from promoting gun control.
NRA officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump has embraced the gun lobby, vowing not to tighten U.S. firearms laws and advocating proposals such as arming teachers as a way of preventing school shootings.
On Friday, Trump used the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis to announce he was pulling the United States out of an international arms treaty signed in 2013 by Democratic President Barack Obama but opposed by the NRA and conservative groups.
The NRA spent $30.3 million to support Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks campaign spending.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)